Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Mankiw Walkout

Here's his response in the New York Times.

I also found out yesterday that this is not the first time Ec10 has been protested. The last time it happened, they apparently got more done from the protest than this time. Here's a letter to the editor by the kid that spear-headed the movement back then.

I've been meaning to write something more about Mankiw's textbook - and perhaps I will at some point. I think it's more Keynesian in its discussion of fiscal and monetary policy than a lot of people give it credit for - but in a way that these protesters probably wouldn't appreciate (the section relies on a liquidity preference theory of the interest rate alone. Of course he discusses loanable funds theory earlier, but I was a little surprised to say that. Of course this is taking Keynes's position againt both Hicks and the classicals.

He's still got that pesky diagram labeling a labor surplus as "unemployment".


  1. Does Harvard University even offer a single course on the History of Economic Thought? It's rarely offered these days at the undergraduate level, never mind that postgraduate level, according to a Professor of Economics I had at Trinity College.

  2. Blue Aurora,

    That isn't surprising. History is a difficult discipline - not so much in that it is intellectually difficult (I think it is grokable by most people) but in the sense that it is very time intensive to do - there is a lot of reading to be done for one thing and you'll probably have to learn a foreign language as well. So if the field of economics isn't producing a whole bunch of PhDs who do the history of economics then you're likely not going to find a lot of courses at the undergraduate level on the subject. Similarly historians don't do economics very much either in my experience; some of that may be because of the reaction to the various sub-fields that were once dominated by Marxist historians.

    "Because history is the only deep, empirical record of human behavior we have it is imperative that new generations on the brink of an unknown future possess the fairest and most accurate information about preceding ones." - Steven Ozment, _Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe_, pg. 111

  3. Harvard apparently does have history of economic thought classes, Blue Aurora.

    You'll find that where they are neglected it has nothing to do with the issues that Gary raises (the issue of time investment). It has more to do with how crowded the course schedule gets with other material that must be covered. History of thought is incredibly important for understanding why a discipline does things today the way it does things, but strictly speaking you don't need it to do economic science. So many departments (unfortunately) neglect it.

    They've offered these courses at every university I've been to. I don't think it's so rare as people think that it's offered. I think the difference is that they are not required like they used to be, and as a result they aren't offered as often too.

  4. Daniel,

    In other words, it isn't important to whoever is making the curriculum. Political philosophy/history of political thought is the ugly headed stepchild in most political science departments too.

    Anyway, there are currently twenty-six departments worldwide that offer a graduate degree in economic history:

    Last I checked there were roughly sixty graduate programs in the history of science by way of comparison.

  5. Gary -
    You see a lot of different history degrees more often than you see different economics degrees. There are all kinds of different history degrees. Usually in economics you only get a degree in "economics". There are a lot of people who do fieldwork and write their dissertation on economic history, but get their degree in "economics", including my major advisor and my thesis advisor at William and Mary, my labor professor at GW, and several professors at American.

    Don't read so much into the naming of degrees.

    I think it's wrong to say it isn't important. It's important and it's taught widely. But there are a lot of competing uses for time. It's the same reason why history of physics or history of biology aren't required in those degrees. I think it's wrong to say they don't think it's important - that is unnecessarily antagonistic of you. It's simply not the best structure of the curriculum.

  6. Daniel,

    A general history of science or technology has become a standard required course in American universities over the past few decades for science and engineering majors; in fact, they tend to be a major funding source that keeps graduate student departments going in history - the graduate students teach sections of history of technology or science to the engineering and science majors, and in turn the graduate students get to pursue their research.

    Anyway, if I had a dollar for every time an economist I've read or heard complain about the lack of historical or philosophical background knowledge in their discipline at the undergraduate or graduate level I'd be a millionaire. The lack of an apparently more well rounded discipline appears to be something that concerns lots of economists and gets them up on their soapbox.

  7. Which departments require it exactly? Harvard doesn't seem to for its physics majors, and Harvard has one of the most respected history of science departments in the world. That seems like an odd omission.

    The next department that came to mind was Hopkins, so I checked their physics department - no history of science requirement either.

    I could continue this goose-hunt, but I was hoping you'd clarify. Could you offer one example of a science program and one example of an engineering program at a respected university that has this requirement? Thanks.

    Certainly people get on soapboxes. My point is we do a lot of history of thought that people don't even appreciate and that you don't seem to appreciate because it was just yesterday that you were making a big deal of the fact that we don't aware "economic history degrees" - apparently not realizing that economics, unlike history, usually doesn't have multiple departmental names. If you do economic history, you get a degree in economics. If you do microeconomics you get a degree in economics. If you do macroeconomics you get a degree in economics, etc.

  8. Daniel,

    Look at land-grant colleges - it is a common requirement - some sort of history of science course. I have no idea if those are "respected" programs or not. On a personal note, even though I wasn't in the Chemical Engineering department at Oregon State I took as an undergraduate the course that Chemical Engineering majors are required to take on the history of science, and, as one major told me, other "fuzzy headed" subjects.

    Harvard doesn't need to finance its history of science and technology programs that way, and Hopkins has a graduate student population that dwarfs its undergraduate population (3 to 1 or 4 to 1 - something like that).

  9. As far as I can tell Oregon State University does not have a history of science requirement:

    Gary, look. You're trying to tell me I'm wrong, and make some statement about what economists think is important or not when you haven't demonstrated any real understanding about what kind of history of thought or economic history gets produced.

    Then you throw this claim out that it's actually important and standard for science and engineering, offering further commentary on what's "important" to economists.

    All I'm asking is that you support what you say on here, and so far you haven't.

    OSU doesn't seem to require it for their chemical engineers as far as I can tell.

    Can you name me one science program and one engineering program that does have this requirement? Please. I'm simply asking you to provide evidence (just SOME evidence that the phenomenon exists - not even evidence that it's common) for a claim that you made.

    This pattern not just of making sweeping claims you don't bother to support, but of browbeating others at the same time over it - is getting very old.

  10. Daniel,

    It isn't going to be called the history of science - in my case it was called "Risk Analysis and Society" or some such - it broadly dealt with the history of science.

    "You're trying to tell me I'm wrong..."

    I am? I thought I was trying to have a dialog with you. I have lots of dialogs with lots of people.

  11. Daniel,

    I'll be rather blunt, you're constantly taking offense for no reason. That's the pattern if anything.

  12. You challenge things on here often - me and other commenters, usually by going off on tangents that no one is talking about in the first place, and often not offering any evidence (here is a good example). "Offense" is too strong a word, but it's true I don't like it. I don't like Gary Gunnels holding so much sway over the direction of my comment section. Unfortunately trying to point this out to you just pushes you farther. I'm not sure what to do about it. I don't want to moderate comments because that gums up the works and makes the whole atmosphere more closed. I just don't know what to do.

    Anyway, don't even try to pretend it's me. I've got lots of critics in the comment section (some days my commenters are MOSTLY critics), and not a single one of them - not one - introduces the problem in the comment section that you do. Even someone frustrating like Silas Barta at least manages to stay on topic and not turn it into his own little blog post. I love talking with people who disagree with me, and I rarely take "offense". Let's not pretend that this is the issue - you know it's not.

    I don't know what to do. I'm just going to have to ask you nicely to cut down your commenting on here - my blog - significantly and think carefully before you do comment.

  13. "You challenge things on here often..."

    Oh no!!!!!!!


  14. You may want to read past the first clause of the first sentence, Gary.

  15. Daniel,

    I put words on a computer screen, getting upset over mere arguments (as opposed to insults) seems rather strange to me. If I bring a different perspective to things Daniel, it is largely because I'm not an economists, wasn't educated as an economist, etc.

    Anyway, good luck with your echo chamber.

  16. "The conservative ascendancy within economics serves to indoctrinate undergraduates politically. Critical perspectives on economics are key to countering the rise of political conservatism on campuses..."

    "The rise of political conservatism on campuses..."

    Like 5% of students used to be Republican, and now it's 10%?

    And 2% of faculty used to be Republican, and now it's 4%?

  17. What I want to know is how does the dude still have a job?

    We have his track record as an econ guy working for Bush and the results of his efforts are plain.

    A couple of Bush's lawyers almost got their tickets yanked for just making it up as they go along.

    At least the students know they are being cheated. If I was paying the $$$ Harvard costs for my kid, I would have told him or her to walk


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.